Villanueva looks to fend off 8 challengers, avoid fate of his predecessor – The Downey Patriot

Sheriff Alex Villanueva addresses the Norwalk City Council on Feb. 1, 2022. (City of Norwalk photo)
LOS ANGELES – Unseating an incumbent Los Angeles County sheriff is no easy task, but eight people are vying to do just that in Tuesday’s election as they challenge Alex Villanueva, whose first term has been marked by clashes with the county Board of Supervisors and questions about so-called “deputy gangs.”
Over the past century, only one incumbent sheriff in the county has lost a re-election bid. That was four years ago, when Villanueva achieved a stunning upset of Sheriff Jim McDonnell, riding to an election victory with strong backing from reform-minded community groups and Democrats.
But over the past four years, Villanueva’s support among those groups has waned as he repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding and policy matters, fought back against claims of “deputy gangs” within the agency, defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and refused to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and department employees.
He has openly criticized “progressive” policies and politicians, most notably District Attorney George Gascón, and assailed movements to “defund” law enforcement agencies.
Those stances, however, have helped solidify his support among many of those working for him, exemplified by his endorsement by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.
In a campaign statement, Villanueva’s campaign insists he has worked to restore public trust in the sheriff’s department, pointing to the rollout of body-worn cameras and boosting minimum requirements for new deputies. The campaign also boasts the agency is “the most diverse in the nation.”
“In his next term, Sheriff Villanueva will work to reduce violent crime, compassionately clean up homeless encampments and hold public officials accountable for their actions,” according to his campaign.
While the incumbent maintains hope of winning re-election outright in the primary by garnering a majority of the vote, the race for sheriff will likely not be decided until November, when the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s vote (short of an outright majority) would square off in the general election.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Karla Carranza says she wants to change the tenor of leadership in the department, vowing to overhaul the upper echelon within the agency. She has said she will work to bolster staffing to counter rising crime rates and improve safety in the jails. Carranza also vows to take a zero- tolerance policy toward “deputy gangs.”
Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna contends the sheriff’s department is being “mismanaged” by Villanueva and said he will work to restore trust in the agency. He also touts his position as an outsider with no connections to the sheriff’s department.
“Growing up in East Los Angeles, patrolled by the sheriff’s department, opened my eyes to examples of both good and bad policing, and inspired my 36-year career in law enforcement,” Luna said in a candidate statement.
He said he will work to “modernize” the sheriff’s department and its jail system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and employees.
Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo, a former assistant sheriff, touts his 33-year career in law enforcement and points to his testimony in the federal corruption trial of former Sheriff Lee Baca, saying he’s now running “to end Alex Villanueva’s corruption, bring reform and progress to LASD, while reducing crime and protecting the people of L.A. County.”
Rhambo claims on his campaign website that Villanueva has “failed the people of Los Angeles” with a “combative and divisive approach” that has led to a “deeply toxic environment” that has hampered the ability to address problems such as homelessness and rising crime. He also said he will embrace oversight of the agency and supports the decertification of deputies convicted of misconduct, “including being part of a deputy gang.”
Retired Sheriff’s Capt. Matt Rodriguez, the only Republican in the nonpartisan race, is a 32-year law enforcement veteran whose father and brother also served in the sheriff’s department. He embraces being a “conservative Republican” in the field of candidates and says his campaign is built on “respect and integrity.”
According to his website, Rodriguez said he “believes public safety is a shared responsibility that requires positive relationships built on trust, public consent and positive interactions.” He said he will take a “humanistic but realistic approach” to the homelessness crises, working with advocacy groups to provide housing, medical and mental health care. He also backs changes in the criminal justice system, but says “reform requires a surgical approach to change,” rather than the “ham-handed, failed reform” of current leadership.
April Saucedo Hood, a parole agent, touts herself as “the only outside, female Spanish-speaking Mexican-American sheriff candidate,” saying she will bring a “unique approach” to leading an agency in need of improving trust within the community. She said she will “create transparency, lead by collaborating with our stakeholders and community partners and reduce violent crime.”
She said the agency needs to collaborate more closely with the Board of Supervisors and the Civilian Oversight Commission and inspector general. She also said department employees should be “held to the highest standards,” and plans to order an outside review of the agency’s Internal Affairs Bureau and Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau.
Retired Sheriff’s Capt. Britta Steinbrenner was most recently the head of the agency’s County Services Bureau, which provides security services at hospitals, libraries and county buildings. She said her career with the agency has helped her “understand the complexities of building a strong leadership team that supports the overall vision of the organization,” along with the need to treat “everyone, regardless of status, with respect.”
She said she would work with other agencies to provide assistance for the homeless, “and not just sweep them off the streets for a photo opp.” She also plans to bolster community policing efforts as a way to restore public trust and work in support of “innovative methods” to overhaul the much- criticized jail system.
Sheriff’s Lt. Eric Strong said his perspectives on law enforcement have been shaped by personal experiences as a crime victim who has had negative interactions with police, and as someone who has had relatives incarcerated or killed by law enforcement. A former Marine and Compton police officer, Strong said he will “move decisively” to eliminate deputy gangs and work with the inspector general and oversight agencies.
He added that he opposes construction of a new central jail, but wants to work to provide alternatives to incarceration to keep people out of the jail system and “break the cycle of addiction, petty crime and homelessness.” He also vows to “put the needs of victims first and take steps to protect them from their perpetrators and re-victimization.”
Retired Sheriff’s Cmdr. Eli Vera was once a close confidant of Villanueva, but the pair had a public falling out, highlighted when Villanueva demoted him from captain to commander in response to Vera’s campaign. Vera has publicly challenged Villanueva’s leadership, and recently testified before the Civilian Oversight Commission about the actions of deputy gangs in some stations.
He says that as sheriff, he would work to restore public trust in the agency and “focus on public safety,” while rebuilding relationships with the Board of Supervisors and the commission, while also providing “clear expectations and direction for LASD while fostering a culture of equity and inclusion.”
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